Our guest this week is playwright Michael Conley who talks about his play “Reading Lips“. Michael was born in a small town in Kansas. After high school in Chicago and college at the University Delaware, he moved to New York. He received his MFA in screenwriting from Columbia University. Michael currently resides in San Diego and is the Co-Vice President of the San Diego Chapter of Hearing Loss Association of America.
Michael’s plays have been presented in New York, San Diego and Philadelphia.
Michael: Writing “Reading Lips” brought out a part of my identity that I didn’t even know was there. Meeting people with a hearing loss and learning that they experienced the same challenges I have always faced made me realize that I’m part of a larger community. That although I had been struggling my whole life with developing tips on how to “get by” (as I call it), everyone else was trying to get by as well.
Working on the play introduced me to a lot of people I would otherwise not have met. Meeting those who used ASL to communicate made me want to learn ASL. That in turn led to studying Deaf Culture—this history that we all share (even if peripherally).
At the time, I thought “Deaf people” were only people who had no hearing at all. I remember asking someone who was completely deaf if they consider me as Deaf. “Sure!” Not only did that give me more insight into the range of hearing losses people have, but it also gave me an appreciation of how inclusive and embracing the Deaf Community is.
I love making connections with others who have hearing loss. Everyone has something to teach me. I attend Audible Talkers Toastmasters meetings which are held online. I’ve been a member for a year and a half. Their meetings are accessible to the Hard of Hearing (HoH) with live captioning and automatic speech recognition. HoH members get a transcript, or outline, of each speech before the meeting, allowing us to enjoy the live speech and provide more effective feedback. The club is supportive and their members, HoH, hearing, English as a second language, and more, are each fascinating in their own way.
Michael was a guest at recent meeting (anyone can attend as a guest). Alongside his name I noticed readinglips.com. Of course I had to investigate that! It turns out Michael is a playwright and that makes it all the more interesting so we invited him to podcast with us. It was great having him with us.
On his website, Michael shares information about his play, “Reading Lips”, a full-length play about being gay and Deaf. While writing the play, he posed the questions, “Am I gay man who happens to be Deaf? Or a Deaf man who just happens to be gay?” In the upcoming podcast with Hearing Loss LIVE!, Michael shares, “Having a hearing loss has made far more of an impact on the choices I made in life,” and that made me think.
Hearing loss changed the course of my life after the last big drop. How many times have I thought ahead and said, No I can’t go. It won’t be accessible to me. I quit the one job I thought I’d be doing all my life because of hearing loss. I went into a deep dark hole which took a few years to climb out of. Hearing loss impacts our lives in many ways.
Hearing loss affects relationships in our family too. During our podcast together, Michael tells a story about how growing up with a hearing loss affected his family life. I’m not going to spoil the story here, you’ll have to watch.
Michele: Before our podcast with Michael, I read everything on his website and searched for more information on the internet. I was especially interested in his experience at Gallaudet University, as I’ve thought about doing something similar—spending a semester or two studying American Sign Language (ASL) and immersing myself in a community rich in Deaf culture. I especially love Washington DC, so there’s that too.
Because there was a no-voicing policy in his program at Gallaudet, Michael talked about how liberating it was not to have to wear his cochlear implant (CI) or hearing aid, and not having to position himself to read people’s lips. I can relate. I’ve never worn hearing aids (other than in trials) or CI. If there is any consolation in not finding help with technology, it is a certain freedom from trying to hear better—something members of Deaf culture understand and embrace—which in turn has allowed me to focus more on communicating better.
I sometimes think people with hearing loss are so focused on their quest for technology to help them hear better, they miss the really important step of learning to be comfortable with who they are without any type of aid or communication tool.
We are likely never going to hear as well as we would like to in some situations—battery failure, too much noise or distance, and/or weak WiFi and cell phone service depletes the effectiveness of our hearing devices, assistive listening technology, and ASR (automatic speech recognition) apps. Even lipreading, textual English, and ASL are a challenge without a readable speaker, captioner, or interpreter.
However, if we can learn to communicate confidently even without any of the valuable communication tools and technology we rely on, we are going to have a life with fewer limits. That is no small thing.
Julia: We are always looking for like minded folks to podcast and blog with. Chelle asked us to review Michael’s website and see if we liked the fit. I read the first three lines of “Reading Lips” and responded, oh yes!
I love the theater. Grew up on it. By age eight I could tell folks what costumes were different in that season of Ballet West’s “The Nutcracker”. I love musicals and often sing show tunes around my house—some lyrics I make up depending on my mood. I’ll take thought provoking, personal growth and experience, small theater any day. I would love to see a production of this play. It’s different and refreshing. It’s about finding your identity. As much as I love the originals, small playhouses where the director and playwright work together I find so enjoyable.
The first time I met Michael was in a Hearing Loss LIVE! Self Advocacy workshop presented by Michele Linder. Michael asked a question, why would folks not just ask for what you need? Why indeed! We need more HoH people to adopt this mindset. Be proactive, be diverse. Be the best HoH you can be!
Watch our companion podcast with Michael.